Discipleship:
Holding strong to Christian principles in the face of adversity

How many times have you felt disliked or judged by those around you because of your faith? Many Christians would probably answer “a lot”. We have felt pressured to hide – or even change – our beliefs because they do not fit with the worldview held by our society.

If your beliefs and values are derived from the Bible, the chances are that you will often feel somewhat on the outskirts of society, unable to relate to the beliefs and experiences of your secular friends and family. You may have found yourself outnumbered or ridiculed. You may even have asked yourself whether your Biblical views could be wrong and the secular beliefs could be right, as they are so widely held and accepted.

But in such times, take heart, as this is precisely what Jesus anticipated that His disciples would go through.

Hated by the world, but loved by God

In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the apostles, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

Here, Jesus is acknowledging that it will not be easy for His disciples, as they will be living in a world that rejects the commandments that His disciples should follow. Christians will be hated by the secular world around them.

We should nevertheless be comforted in the knowledge that Jesus was also hated and that therefore we are sharing in the experience of our Lord. The hatred of the world is one of the marks that we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). The Lord has chosen each one of us, bringing us out of this fallen world and into His light (John 1:4-5). We are hated by the world because we are fundamentally different from it, in the same way that Jesus was.

A Christ-like response to hatred

So, how do we hold strong to our Christian principles in the face of adversity? Well, in the same way that the world’s hatred of us mirrors its hatred of Jesus, our actions and responses to that hatred should also mirror those of Jesus. If we model our lives after His, we can be sure that we are doing what is right.

A good example of Jesus suffering hatred for doing what is right is found in Matthew 21. Jesus sees the temple being used for improper means and restores it to a place of prayer (Matthew 21:12-13). He heals the sick and injured, which causes children to praise Him.

The chief priests of the temple, however, rather than praising or thanking Him for these good works, are angry that the children are praising Him (Matthew 21:14-15). When He teaches in the temple, they question His authority (Matthew 21:23). So Jesus tells them parables, explaining that those who repent of their sins and believe the Word of God will go to heaven ahead of the priests who do not repent, even if the repentant people are tax collectors and prostitutes. The chief priests of course do not like to be told this, and even look for a way to arrest Jesus for what He has said and done (Matthew 21:28-49).

The Lord has chosen each one of us, bringing us out of this fallen world and into His light (John 1:4-5)

Christ demonstrates the grace of God by declaring the truth

Jesus would have known that His actions and words would be inflammatory to the chief priests, who already disliked Him. Yet, in the face of hatred, He continued to act with grace and to declare the truth.

The cleansing of the temple declared the truth that worldly actions separate us from God, and a space of repentance and faith should remain unpolluted by things that do not demonstrate His glory. It was also an act of grace to those who were seeking access to God but whose efforts were hampered by those who had turned it into “a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13).

The healing of the sick demonstrated grace to those who were suffering, while also communicating the truth that Christ has the power to heal and to cleanse.

The parables told in the temple show that the Lord did not shy away from speaking the truth, even if it was unpalatable to those such as the chief priests who had hardened their hearts towards it. Yet these parables also powerfully declare the grace of God, illustrating the Gospel message that salvation is granted to even those whom society judges to be among the worst of sinners (Matthew 21:31).

Jesus’ words and actions did not lessen the hatred of those who were determined to oppose Him. Yet there were many others who were drawn to Him throughout these events.

These include the people who made way for Him on the road to Jerusalem (Matthew 21:8-9), those who came to be healed by Him in the temple, the children who shouted praises to Him, and the people who came to hear Him teaching. In fact, so many were the people who had been inspired by Jesus that the chief priests did not dare to arrest Him because of the crowd of believers (Matthew 21:46).

This demonstrates that perseverance in the face of opposition brings the light of truth to those previously held in the darkness of this fallen world. It should encourage us to follow Christ and speak the truth wherever we can, even when we are hated for it.

How we can follow Christ’s example

Just as others followed Jesus when they saw what He did, we too can hope to inspire others. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you,” taught Jesus – but immediately He added, “If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20, ESV). This means that if we act in the way that Jesus acted, and teach what He taught, we can by God’s grace bring people to Him.

Jesus tells His apostles to go and make disciples of the whole world (Matthew 28:19), so it is our duty as followers of Christ to do this whenever we can. We can see in each of the four Gospels that people were drawn to Jesus because of His good works and teachings in the face of hatred; if we mirror Him and speak the truth, doing what is right even when the world hates us for it, then we will show others the light of Christ, encouraging them to follow Him.

Similarly, as the example of Christ is an encouragement to us, so our Christ-like actions – God willing – can be an encouragement to other Christians. Some of our brothers and sisters may be afraid of facing opposition and persecution, but courage breeds courage, and iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17): seeing us staying firm to Christ’s teachings may encourage them to do the same.

True Discipleship

This is true discipleship: mirroring Jesus’ actions with our own and holding fast to the Lord and His teaching  in the face of hatred. Through this we can encourage our brothers and sisters, and inspire others also to follow Him. We can be practical demonstrations of the light of Christ, spreading that light to others in the darkness of the world:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

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